X-Country Ski Team Blazing New Trails

Published in the January 30, 2008 issue of Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster


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Neither of Nashoba Regional's cross country ski teams – boys or girls – are serious threats to win the Mass Bay Ski League West title. At weekly races, in which all six of the league's teams compete, the Chieftains are lucky to crack the top four or five.

But ask girls' team captain Margy Robinson how the season has gone thus far, and she's all smiles.

“Extremely well,” said Robinson, a senior from Stow, in answer to that very question.

For one thing, the team is bigger this year than it's been in the past, with more than 20 skiers at the start of the season. Although few of the newcomers are expert skiers—and some are true novices—Robinson and boys' team captain Georges Fischer say the influx of new blood and new perspectives has made the sport more interesting, more social, and more fun.

“It's a happy family sort of thing,” Robinson said.

Another positive of the season, the skiers say, is their new coach. Margaretha Burr Nyberg, who learned to ski at a very young age in her native Sweden, has been a patient instructor, an advocate for new equipment (such as a waxing station, which the team had never had in the past), and a coach who would just as soon strap on a pair of skis herself rather than offer guidance from the sidelines.

“Having a coach who goes out to ski with us is a big, big plus,” said Fischer, a junior from Stow.

And to top it all off, there's been plenty of snow. While most of us have bemoaned the slippery sidewalks and spin-outs that have accompanied each new accumulation of white stuff this season, for the skiers it's been a winter of bounty. Last year, a shortage of snow meant that all races had to be held on a course in Westin, where the snow was man-made but the course unsatisfyingly short, and finding snow to practice on was a serious challenge. This year, all of the Mass Bay West events have been held at Great Brook Farm State Park in Carlisle, a huge upgrade, and the skiers have been able to practice regularly on trails near the high school.

The down side is that the skiers have had to, literally, blaze their own trails. Without access to a snowmobile equipped for flattening the snow, as teams at some other schools have, the Chieftains have had to do it the hard way, tamping down the snow with their skis.

“At other schools, they just have to put their skis on and ski,” Burr Nyberg said. “The time we spend making trails is time other schools are using for practice.”

Despite these challenges, the Chieftains have had a number of success stories this season, starting with the two captains. Robinson, who placed seventh out of about 80 girls at last Tuesday's race, and Fischer, who placed 17th out of about 100 boys, both attribute their success to having spent the fall as cross-country runners.

“If we hadn't run cross country, we wouldn't be doing nearly as well,” Robinson said.

Both Robinson and Fischer come from families of skiers, something that Burr Nyberg says was apparent the first time she saw them ski.

“They had the technique, and the endurance,” she said. “And they're both really dedicated. For some kids, it's just something to do, but they're really into it.”

Burr Nyberg, who did some cross-country running herself as a young athlete, agrees that the two cross-country disciplines can be symbiotic. The runners, along with those who play soccer in the fall, bring great conditioning and endurance to their skiing. What they often lack, however, is the upper body strength needed for effective poling. For that, Burr Nyberg says she'll be encouraging her skiers to spend at least part the off-season roller blading with their ski poles.

“I'm going to give them homework over the summer,” she said. “This is not a sport you do just for a few weeks, not if you want to be good at it.”

And who knows, if the Chieftains do their homework, next season just might be even better than this one.

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239